MANATEE -- At Tiramisu Ristorante & Pizzeria, the love for food is as strong as the love between its owners.
Luca and Monica Cecconi wanted to run their own restaurant and emigrated to America to live out that dream. The newlyweds married in May and then moved to Bradenton in October after acquiring their visas.
"We would like people to feel like they're in our home, share in our kitchen and our wine," Luca said.
The food is as authentic as it can be as the two try to find the right words in English to explain their Italian ingredients and life in general. The Cecconis took over the space Mama T's Pizza last occupied, making an unsolicited offer for the restaurant and equipment.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Tiramisu opened in November at 5215 14th St. W., beside Dairy Queen. The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed Sundays.
"We don't have a big, big budget, so we were looking for a little restaurant to take over," Luca said.
Both have their own expertise. Luca, 28, is the wine connoisseur who grew up in Livorno, southwest of Pisa on the Mediterranean Sea. He curated 40 varieties of wine including a special Tuscany section of bottles. Monica, 33, is the food expert who hails from a small mountain village near Bologna. She met Luca while working at a small hotel he visited on vacation. The two fell in love and found their common passion.
They settled in Bradenton to be near Monica's father, Francesco Mucci, who first opened Ferrari's Italian Restaurant in Sarasota and operated several other Italian restaurants in the area.
Monica said she arrives each day around 8 a.m. to make her ravioli, tortellini, sometimes stuffed with ricotta and spinach and sage -- her favorite dish to cook -- or start on her meat sauce for her tagliatelle Bolognese that slowly simmers throughout the day. The only thing Monica can't make by hand at the restaurant is penne and spaghetti because she doesn't have the equipment, she said.
There are three kinds of tiramisu, including the traditional type with espresso or a chocolate and walnut one served in a glass bowl or another with chopped
"It's not too much cream, it's light," Monica said about her creations.
The couple is big on creating an intimate Italian experience, hosting special events.
On Jan. 21, the restaurant will host its second Notte Di Musica where Italian singer Santo Gagliano will perform. Offered for $20, is antipasto fiorentino -- made with crostino olives -- and a choice of tagliatelle Bolognese or parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant Parmesan) plus dessert. Two seatings are available and can be reserved by calling the restaurant at 941-753-2800.
Luca and Monica are trying to overcome a language barrier, learning government regulations and catering to the American diner all at the same time. On Tuesday, Luca tried to communicate with a refrigeration repairman during lunch.
When possible, he get Monica's father to translate and help navigate business deals.
They acknowledge it has been a struggle at times navigating this new life but rewarding when the tables are full.
"After the first month, it got better," Luca said. "We were learning the language the first month, had a new license, new contract with managers -- everything was new to us."
The day typically starts with a trip to Publix to pick up some sage and spices, or over to the Red Barn Market for produce and when they need a little bit of everything, they head to Sam's Club to assemble a kitchen stocked on the fly while maintaining a homemade flavor.
Sometimes it's a bit of Bolognese from Monica's upbringing and some specials come from Luca's family.
"We have some recipes from my mother, so it's Tuscan recipes sometimes," Luca said. Monica "comes from Bologna, so it's famous for fresh pasta."
In the middle of a chat with a reporter, Monica wanted to share a story about her cooking. She spoke to Luca in her native tongue and the two chuckle.
"A guy once said she cooks like an older woman," Luca said translating for his wife.
For the Cecconis, cooking is the language of love.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.